What happens when tragedy king Dilip Kumar and tragedy queen Meena Kumari star together in a film? You would expect them to have a crying marathon, right? But Azaad is a film where they go atypical with a vengeance. This M Sriramulu Naidu-directed film is not a classic by a long shot, it’s not even as memorable as Kohinoor, the other comic gig of the tragedy couple, but Azaad will make you smile many times.
The first time we see Shobha (Kumari), she is riding a horse with great ease. She informs her foster mother, “Main apna var khud talaash karungi.” When she is abducted, she calls out to the goons with “badmaash… kutte… kameene”. Yes, you will also do a double-take before believing it is indeed Kumari saying all this. Atypical, like I said.
Kumar plays a swashbuckling desi Robin Hood, a master of disguise. The film is a journey of this “niraala lootera” who wants to be azaad (free) and clear his name of the crimes he didn’t commit.
Azaad, literally, was what the doctor ordered for Kumar. In his recently released autobiography, The Substance and the Shadow, Kumar mentions that he was advised to switch over to comedy by psychiatrist Dr WD Nichols when he complained of being “seized by a morbid outlook as a result of playing ill-fated characters”. The story goes that Kumar went to meet producer S Mukherjee and told him about a Tamil film, Malaikallan, that he had seen. Naidu wanted to make it in Hindi with Kumar, who was debating whether to go for it since it would entail a complete change of his screen image. As Dilipsaab writes, “K Asif (director of Mughal-e-Azam) also happened to be present when I was talking to Mukherjee sahab, and smiling provocatively, he said, ‘Karke dikhaiye.’ (Let us see you do it).” Prodded by Mukherjee, Kumar took up the challenge, and the film’s success was like a shot in the arm. “Azaad, in many ways, was the first film that gave me the much-needed confidence to forge ahead with a feeling of emancipation and a sense of achievement,” the actor writes.
Azaad offered a lot of scope for its secondary characters — a huge chunk is devoted to the comic interludes of two policemen (played by Om Prakash and Raj Mehra), who are trailing bandits. The most hilarious dialogues are reserved for Achala Sachdev. When she discovers Shobha in the arms of the aged Khan sahib (Kumar in disguise), she says, “Arre Khan sahib, bhagwan aapka satyanaash kare… aapki dadhi mein keede pade,” she says. Then there is Pran, but wasted in a small role. Azaad has its share of thrills too, including a fight sequence between a leopard and a wild boar and a dramatic rescue involving the lead stars on a ropeway.
The heart of Azaad is, of course, the chemistry between the lead stars. In a sequence, Azaad says about Shobha, “Ladki hai yaa bijli ki taar… chhua kya jaise saare badan mein sansani phail gayi hai.” In his book, Kumar speaks fondly of Kumari. “Meena was a sprightly person who got along very well with every member of the unit and enjoyed taking lessons in Tamil from Naidu.”
Musically, Azaad has maximum recall value for the Lata-C Ramchandra (sounding much like Talat Mahmood) duet, Kitna haseen hai mausam and the Lata-Usha chartbuster Aplam Chaplam performed on screen by the inimitable duo of Sayee and Subbulaxmi. The story goes that Naidu approached Naushad to score 10 tunes within 30 days for which he would get his “due payment”. To this, Naushad reportedly said: “Naidu saab, yeh koi baniye ki dukaan samjhi hai kya aapne? Ek gaana nahi milega aapko tees din main.” That’s when Naidu approached C Ramchandra.
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